You choose how to live your life. You create your own reality. You can choose to be an object in your life and let others tell you who you are and what you are capable of being. Or you can choose to be the subject in your life and determine your own destiny by transforming yourself into a creative thinker.
One day when I was ten years old, I was hiking up a hill to pick blackberries with Dido, my grandfather, when he stopped and picked up a caterpillar. “Look at this. What do you see?” “A caterpillar,” I said.
“Someday this will become a beautiful butterfly. Look at it carefully and tell me what you see that proves this will be so.” I studied the caterpillar carefully looking for a sign. Finally, I said, “Dido, there is nothing in the caterpillar that tells me it’s going to be a butterfly.” “Exactly!” my grandfather said. “And there is nothing in you on the outside that shows others what you will become. Remember this. When people tell you why you can’t do something or become something, remember the caterpillar. You cannot see what is going on inside the caterpillar, and they cannot see what is in your heart or mind. Only you, like the caterpillar, know what you are capable of becoming.”
I think of the caterpillar and butterfly when I think of how people can change. In metamorphosis, little things that biologists call imaginal cells begin to crop up in the body of the caterpillar. At first, they have difficulty surviving. It isn’t until they begin to combine and interact with each other that they get stronger and are able to resist being attacked by the immune system. Then these imaginal cells replace the caterpillar cells, and the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
I think that is a beautiful metaphor for the process of becoming a creative personality. We do not inherit our behavioral traits directly, through our genes. Instead we develop traits through the dynamic process of interacting with our environment. Think of these traits as your imaginal cells, which need to strengthen and change in order for you to become a creative person.
At first your changes may have difficulty surviving (much like the first butterfly cells), but over time — as you consistently work to change your perceptions, thinking patterns, speaking patterns, attitude, and the way you act — you will find these forces linking up and changing the way you interact with your environment. Like a caterpillar surprised when it becomes a butterfly, you will be surprised when you find yourself transformed from a dull, passive onlooker into an active creative thinker who can change the world.
(Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. http://www.creativethinking.net)